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What are major complaints/problems of volunteer abroad and how to solve it?

Volunteer Abroad

When you make the decision to volunteer abroad, you’re anticipating a positive experience where you’ll have a great time, develop valuable skills and get a new outlook on the world and the purpose of your life. You’re expecting everything to run smoothly, and your organization to provide overall in-country support as well as helpful guidance in all aspects of the project.

However, if you read volunteer abroad reviews carefully, you’ll notice that nearly 5% of volunteers are unhappy or dissatisfied with their experience. The reasons vary; they are not happy with their organization, the projects, host families, local support or how their program fee funds are being allocated. They express these complaints through online reviews that appear on various volunteer related websites (not necessarily the organization’s home page).

Volunteer abroad is an investment of your time and money, and thus it is the responsibility of any good organization to ensure that you have the best experience possible. In this article, we will elaborate on the major volunteer abroad complaints and problems they run into with their volunteer abroad programs and providers. We’ll explore the reasons why these problems arise and how to solve them.

The following are some of the major volunteer abroad complaints, and solutions we recommend:

I am having a communication problem.

A great number of volunteer abroad complaints are that their provider is not replying to emails, taking phone calls or returning messages, or that they are slow and the reply is unprofessional. Poor, slow or zero communication is extremely frustrating for any volunteer.

How to solve it?

Any professional organization should be prompt about communication and return emails as quickly as possible. But, this is especially important when it concerns volunteer abroad, where you are surrounded by people and a culture that’s new to you – you will have questions that come up constantly throughout your stay and it’s imperative that you’re able to reach someone when you need to, or at least not wait long for a reply. The best solution is to try and get a feel for how they communicate before signing up for the program. Email the organization and see how fast they write back with a friendly and helpful response. If you have a bad feeling from the get go, don’t apply to volunteer for that program.

Fee or Money Issues – I’m paying too much.

There’s no getting around the fact that program fees are expensive, and many volunteer abroad complaints are that volunteers are paying too much. They realize this after they’ve already paid and it’s too late; either they see much lower fees being advertised by other companies, or they meet volunteers in the same program or host family that are paying a lot less for the same project and basic inclusions. Unfortunately, there’s not much volunteers can do at this point, other than feel they were duped into paying too much.

How to solve it?

Always compare prices! If you look online, you will see that the price for one week abroad can range from $300-$3000, and that types of products and services to volunteers also varies as well. Doing your homework is the first step to avoiding money related problems when volunteering abroad.

Financial allocation problem – where is my money going?

Many volunteer abroad complaints are regarding where the money is going. They pay a steep price like $2000 for a couple of weeks, only to find out that $200 of that is going to their host family and the project itself is getting verdy minimal support (perhaps they notice that the budget is really tight or there’s a lack of proper resources). When these volunteers confront the organization and ask about money allocation, they are given vague answers such as program development, local support, project coordination, etc., and it appears they are just covering up for the fact that the majority of the money is going towards company profit.

How to solve this problem?

Again, we recommend that you be proactive- you have nothing to lose by looking into this before choosing a program. When you first initiate contact with the organization, ask any questions about money allocation that is not clearly answered on their site (and feel free to confirm anything that is). Find out how much of it is going toward the project, host family and on-site staff – areas that directly affect your progress and enjoyment in the program. There might be a percentage of profit that goes to the organization but it shouldn’t be a huge portion of your fee. Make sure you are satisfied with the answers you are given, and that before signing up you have a clear sense of how your program fees are broken down.

It is not arrogance or pride, but we claim IFRE Volunteers is the most transparent, honest and affordable volunteer organization in the world. When you join IFRE, you pay your program fee directly to your host family and the project (via country coordinator).

Problems related to program or project

This project is not what I expected, or this project is not at all like it was advertised online. If you read volunteer abroad reviews, there are many volunteers who are unhappy with their project. They are claiming that it isn’t what they expected or what was advertised to them on the website.

This problem arises for a number of reasons. For one, many volunteer organizations are affiliated with local projects, yet they do not play a direct on-site managerial role; sure, there is an in-country coordinator who serves as the liaison between them and the local organization that has direct control over the project. But sometimes, certain details are not correctly advertised on the company’s website, or the description varies slightly from the true nature of the project. Projects of a certain category (teaching, or orphanage care, for example) tend to have certain global similarities, and sometimes those similarities are what the advertising focuses on, but which might not reveal certain specific details for each individual project.

Let us illustrate an example for you. If one volunteer organization is working with 12 different orphanages in India, their website might not highlight the exact details of each of these 12 projects, but instead it might simply present a generic picture of what orphanage work is like in India. You end up applying for the project based on a description that includes basic information about the children, staff, working environment and what’s expected of you. The organization will place you in one of these 12 orphanages, even though the specific details of each project location might differ slightly.

Many volunteers find themselves suddenly immersed in a work environment that’s not really what they read about or expected, and not what they feel was advertised online or sold to them through emails or phone call inquiries.

So how do you avoid this problem?

We recommend that you avoid this problem by asking for details ahead of time. Before joining the volunteer program, please get the following information and make sure that the project details match your expectations.

  • Name of project, real address and web details
  • Tentative volunteer schedule
  • Contact and background information for supervisors and local staff
  • What is expected of volunteers (responsibilities and duties)
  • How many hours of work per week
  • Any guidelines for the volunteers (rules & regulations, dress code, etc.)
  • Arrangements for food and accommodation

Projects have too many volunteers

I am not getting enough volunteer work. Volunteer abroad complaints are also regarding not getting enough work. In volunteering abroad, the seasons, project type and number of volunteers per project can affect the amount of work doled out to each volunteer. You are traveling across the globe to do something really great and to make a difference, so naturally it would be frustrating to find yourself in a situation where there is not much you can do. Like if you are placed with 5 volunteers in an orphanage that only has 20 kids, for example.

How to solve it

Before you go, speak with your provider and make sure that you will have enough work. You can also check with the project’s local staff members (and your country coordinator) to find out the amount of work that’s available. If you are entering a project that has many volunteers, perhaps you can combine 2 projects (if feasible) to truly get the most meaningful and educational experience possible. Just make sure that you will have enough work to really be able to fulfil your humanitarian mission and utilize your skills for a good cause.

Problems related to host families

If you read volunteer abroad reviews, there are not many volunteer abroad complaints about host families. Many of the same volunteers who express problems with the project or organizations are having very positive experiences with their host families. If you want to make the most of your experience living with a local family, please try and gather these pieces of information, so you can prepare accordingly.

  • How many members are in the host family?
  • Age of the family members, and their relation to one another (any grandparents or extended family living together?)
  • What is their religion? How does it affect living with them- are there certain customs or holidays they will observe?
  • Will you have your own separate room?
  • What meals are included, and what time are they served?
  • Can I bring a friend (male/female) to my host family’s home?
  • Are there any rules or regulations for volunteers?
  • Can I practice the local language with my host family? And do they speak English?
  • Can I get references from past volunteers who lived with this family?

Here are some additional volunteer abroad complaints we’ve collected from volunteer abroad reviews online:

  • We went to a Healthcare Program in Cusco (Perú) where we were supposed to take part in medical activities. We did nothing we were promised, we didn't get any help from the organization.
  • Bad experience with the organization and our project made us see everything negatively.
  • Our country coordinators were really distanced and not interested. They never asked how we were, how we felt, how our day was.
  • So, instead of making it easier, the organization made the beginning harder and it made us really angry and we felt disappointed that there was no way to build a relationship.

In summary, the majority of volunteer abroad complaints are concerning the host organization, communication, money and the project details. Volunteers feel that certain information was misrepresented to them, or that they got a raw deal and are paying more than they should for their project. You can avoid these problems by doing thorough research ahead of time, and making sure to select the best organization.

We’ve also found these online articles to help further guide you on how to avoid problems with your volunteer organization and project.

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